Right, cards on the table from the off here so we all know where we stand before I crack on. When I read that Gary McSheffrey had been given the role of Doncaster Rovers manager permanently my first reaction was disappointment. It wasn’t what I’d been hoping for, for two reasons. Firstly because he’s done a great job with the academy, and if we’re to salvage some sort of continuity from the last 18 months then I felt this was the space in which to do it, and let him carry on his good work. And secondly, because I felt that what our squad needed was a fresh pair of eyes on it to come in, without allegiance or empathy, and make bold decisions on what happens in the January transfer window.
However, those making the decision felt otherwise. So yes, I was disappointed. But not angry. Alas the same couldn’t be said for our wider fanbase. And you only need look at the club’s announcement of McSheffrey’s appointment on Twitter to get a flavour of that. Here are just a sample of the replies… ‘This club is a shambles’… ‘Baldwin and Blunt must walk… there killing the club… joke appointment’… ‘This club is a joke’… ‘sell the club, no confidence in them’… ‘Simply not good enough… woeful’… ‘farcical club’… ‘what an embarrassment we are’… ‘Our board are taking the piss out of DRFC fans’… ‘Absolute joke, the club are fucked’. Sadly, I could go on. And I didn’t even dare look at Facebook or the messageboards. I saw one tweet that suggested that the appointment made the club ‘a laughing stock’. To who exactly? And why?
For a long time I let some of the more outlandish views in our support go, because we’re each entitled to our opinion and we all pay our money and so forth. Even during the murky mess of the Willie McKay led experiment I kind of got why some people went for it, despite all my senses telling me we were giving our cow to a magic bean salesman, whose beans never looked like being anything other than Revels dipped in glitter. But then I watched people who’d spent decades desperate for a twenty-goal-a-season striker finally get what they wanted in John Marquis, only to duly chastise him for being a bit mardy, and I thought fuck it. Some people really don’t deserve nice things; nor do they deserve an attempt at understanding.
It’s not the done thing to lay into your fellow supporters; ‘we’re all Rovers aren’t we’ and that. But then the last time a fan said that out loud to me, was after I’d called him out for singing racist songs whilst walking down Chequer Road, so forgive me if it feels like less of a bind these days. Ultimately we’re all individuals, who just happen to cheer the same goals. We all support our club in our individual ways, and have different expectations of them, but I’ll just never fathom the way some choose to channel that fandom.
Against Sunderland on 27 December, we began the game with five academy graduates in the starting line-up. The last time I remember that happening for a league game was when we only had seven senior pros on the books. It should be a cause for joy, for pride, and yet great swathes of our support appear inexplicably desperate to see them fail. ‘Nowhere near good enough’ and ‘miles out of his depth’ chucked at a 19-year-old centre half in only his second ever league game. ‘He’ll end up at Frickley’. What does anyone get out of writing off a young career on the back of 135 minutes of first team football? I just can’t imagine any other club where supporters would be so quick and keen to put down their own prospects from their own town.
I said this on Twitter the other day, and I come back to it now. I’m starting to think I’m just not angry enough to be a supporter of a professional football club in the 2020s. I just can’t maintain the level of outrage, the perceived sense of injustice, and the desperate clamour for a single person to blame, for any setback, even the relatively minor ones. Football is supposed to be fun. It can’t always go your way, and the attraction of it is exactly that. If it were predictable there would be no point. It’s our town against the rest of the world, and if you can’t approach that with some sense of reason and understanding then perhaps this pastime isn’t for you?
It’s inevitable, as the nature of football, and in particular these days the way it is financed, evolves and changes that we will take steps backwards as well as forwards. The former are very very rarely done intentionally, sometimes it’s just a case that its the turn of other clubs to find the secret to forward momentum. Just because we haven’t quite yet perfected the formula that Rotherham have currently found doesn’t mean we’re not aspiring to it. The question you need to ask yourself is are the people in charge of your club doing it for the right reasons.
The biggest criticism of our own board at present, as far as I can tell, is that they’re trying to run the club prudently without putting its long term future at risk. As villainy goes, it’s pretty low-key. I’ve seen pantomimes with more horrific crimes at their centre. There are so many cautionary tales to the ‘chuck money at it’ approach, both historically and now… Bury, Derby, Reading, Bristol City. Yeah, occasionally teams like Bournemouth get away with it, but there’s more clubs in Column A than Column B.
Such is the anger and outcry at this perceived ‘failure’ of ‘ambition’ – the latter always used as a byword for ‘investing lots of money’ – that mistruths become repeated to the extent that they’re seen as fact. ‘Gone for the cheap option again’ was a much repeated sentence on the announcement of McSheffrey’s appointment. But someone is going to have to tell me which previous permanent managerial appointment of the current board was a cheap option? Dean Saunders? Paul Dickov? Darren Ferguson? Grant McCann? Darren Moore? Richie Wellens? If this were a board with a habit for the cheap option then we’d have had Brian Flynn at the helm in 2013-14.
Of course I’d love to see untold investment in my hometown football club, assuming it was done in a way that emphasised what a club of our size in a community like ours means. But if the people with the money that’s currently keeping the club afloat have decided that’s not the right approach, then do I really have the right to call them out for only spending their money prudently? I don’t think so. Do I have the right to abuse them? Absolutely not.
Yes there are frustrations at the club; the continued contracting of concourse caterers for which ‘bog standard’ represents a level to aspire to being one. But do they deserve all out rage? I don’t think so. A couple of hours after McSheffrey’s appointment, Rovers put out a tweet with a quote from Chief Executive Gavin Baldwin. It brought responses that were frankly offensive, and that I won’t repeat here. No-one deserves that for doing their job.
I’m not necessarily all that mellow a person. I’ve led campaigns before, and driven causes of injustice. I can’t so much as catch sight of the country’s prime minister without swearing, and the aforementioned calling out of racism by a fellow Rovers fan genuinely left me shaking with rage. But I just can’t understand the anger that people carry with them into following their football club. It’s not real life. It’s an escape. We’re bottom of the third tier. It’s frustrating, it’s disappointing, it means it’s a hard watch. But we’re not in danger of ceasing to exist. We’re not in danger of alienating our community. We’re not abandoning the ethos of a community club, in fact we’re doing more in the community than ever. When that’s happening I’ll get angry, as I did when Willie McKay swaggered into view, but until then I’ll take the rough in a fug of disappointment.
When I tweeted that it was supposed to be fun, a couple of people replied. ‘This board have ruined supporting this club for me’, ‘it’s not been fun since John Ryan left’. Really? Did people really find no fun nor joy in the promotion of 2016-17? Did I imagine the pleasure that came from Grant McCann’s swashbuckling side of 2018-19 as they careered into the play-offs and on our best ever FA Cup run? And was 85% of Darren Moore’s time at the helm, which was a largely enjoyable ride, just a mirage?
Things change. We were a different club whilst John Ryan was here. We were on an upward trend fuelled at first by a sense of rightly reclaiming the League place that Ken Richardson had stripped from us, and then by the joy of being the upstarts and the underdogs. And it really was the best time to support this club. But the nature of football, as I’ve said, means we can’t be on top forever. And we can’t always be unfashionable underdogs either, especially not once we’ve apexed. Those times aren’t coming back, in the same way that my twenties aren’t coming back. I’ve much less chance of a shag and I’ve a mortgage to pay, of course I’m hankering for the past, but what good is getting angry about it? Sometimes you just have to accept where you’ve ended up.
Which brings us back to the appointment of Gary McSheffrey. He wasn’t my ideal choice, no. But whilst much of our support are using the interview process that’s brought the interim boss to the fore as the main candidate as a further means to hurl insults at the board, this is arguably the same process that brought us the management of McCann and Moore. And if McSheffrey has shone above the other candidates in that process then he must have something about him. He clearly wants to prove himself in the role, and crucially he has the support of the club’s current players. After the tribulations of this season so far, and the apparent exiling of some senior pros, that can’t be understated. For all that he’s alright by me, and I look forward to seeing my initial reactions prove unfounded.
Hopefully our wider support can suspend the anger long enough to give him a fair and decent crack at things. But I don’t hold out hope. It feels like there’s a great swathe of Rovers supporters with fingers poised over keyboards desperate for the latest setback to pour forth with their latest tirade. It’s tiresome, and it’s weird, and no matter how hard I try I can’t even hope to understand it.
by Glen Wilson